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A referendum over men’s shed or koalas?

At last Thursday’s Tweed Shire Council meeting, I was presented with a petition containing some 33,000 entries directed, not to the council, but to me personally, requesting that I to move to close off access and revegetate the Black Rocks Sportsfield.

The petition was an on-line production based in the USA where 98.5 per cent of respondents lived outside Australia (mainly from Europe and North America) and of the remaining 1.5 per cent of signatories, only 20 per cent were from the Tweed Shire with only one per cent of those living in the Pottsville area.

This equates to around nine respondents actually from Pottsville which is the community that will be most affected by the loss of their public open space.

While the numbers involved sound impressive, the petition, in no way, reflects the local view about a future for the Black Rocks Sportsfield.

The principal protagonist who spearheads the campaign lives in the street adjacent to the fields and, since his arrival in around 2010, I believe he has pursued the removal of people from their recreational space as his sole objective.

Prior to his arrival in the Tweed, the good people of the lower Tweed Coast lived in complete harmony with the koalas that moved into the re-growth area around the fields which formerly comprised open grazing country.

While this man is quick to use koala protection as his reason to achieve his objective, the facts don’t support that proposition.

A Tweed Coast koala habitat study completed in late 2015 made comparisons of koala activity over a five-year period from an earlier study in 2010. The Black Rocks precinct was one of the few where it was identified that koala numbers were relatively stable (notwithstanding the bushfire of Xmas 2014), unlike some areas to the north where populations were in decline.

This was in a period when this man bombarded councillors and council staff with dire claims of the imminent extinction for the koalas of the Black Rocks precinct.

When I proposed the replacement of the locked gate with a koala grid, it was only after consultation with a known koala expert. I have continually sought a balance that acknowledges the need for koala protection and the needs of the community to have reasonable access to their public open space.

In my time as a councillor there have been many koala protection achievements with which I have been associated, including the recent improvements on Clothiers Creek Road, measures adopted in the Kings Forest concept plan and the Koala Connections program which I launched as the mayor some years ago.

My support for council’s decision on a Men’s Shed at the fields was based on the additional protections that this type of passive surveillance at the site would mean for the protection of wildlife from any anti-social activity.

This issue now seems to have reached fever pitch with the single protagonist and his few disciples from outside Pottsville.

Therefore, I have decided to bring a proposal to the next council meeting that recommends a referendum of residents of the lower Tweed Coast (postcode 2489) to establish, definitively, their attitudes to the issue and their preferences regarding a future for their beautiful recreation space and the much cherished koala population that interfaces with the fields.

It won’t be the people of the Ukraine, Manchester or Arizona that will decide but the local people who I trust to make the right  decision for their future.

Cr Barry Longland, Uki


5 responses to “A referendum over men’s shed or koalas?”

  1. Menkit Prince says:

    So what if most of the signatories came from overseas? Koalas are a globally iconic species. As the author of this petition I can say that people from more than 73 countries signed with a large percentage coming from Australia (mainly NSW, Vic and Qld). When canvassing locals at markets we noticed only 2-3% of people did not want to sign. That means 97% people strongly supported signing the petition. Cr Longland is trying to minimise the extent of how much local people care about koalas.

    Since when do the people in Pottsville determine whether a locally endangered population of koalas is to survive or not depending on how much they want a sportsfield when there is already a glut of sportsfields in the area?

    Cr Longland blames a local koala activist for removing people’s open space when for crying out loud there are beaches, parks and sports fields there in plenty! Why does Cr Longland think people’s need for extra space is more important than koala survival?

    When the Black Rocks by the Sea estate Koala Management Plan was surveyed back in 2004 there was only 1 koala. After the trees grew more koalas came, presumably refugees from burgeoning housing development nearby. Now it has been established that this area has become an important wildlife colony and possibly the most viable remaining koala colony on the coast, considering coastal koala numbers are crashing elsewhere.

    The quote about koala numbers lost in the fire came from koala expert and renowned ecologies Dr Steve Phillips – but apparently Cr Longland knows more than he does? Dr Phillips only approved the construction of a grid if it was in conjunction with a gate, not instead of it. That can be verified but Cr Longland appears to have an agenda to put the Men’s Shed ahead of koala needs.

    If koala populations are in balance, why have 8 koalas died at Black Rocks in the last 2 years? Out of a potential population of 15 koalas, that is not sustainable, and hardly ‘balanced.’

    As for ‘improvements’ on Clothiers Creek Rd, two koalas have died since the painting of the koala road sign – so much for an improvement. We all well remember Cr Longland declaring to the media that dogs should be allowed at Kings Forest. As for Koala Connections program, while meritorious in itself, it’s not working as koala numbers on the coast have been crashing, according to the Tweed Coast Habitat Study 2015.

    As for ‘passive surveillance’ of anti-social behaviour at the sports field, being a remote location, is it fair to expect untrained men, many of whom may have mental problems, to enforce unruly members of the public? And what about at night when the men are not there which is when most vandals would come? There is absolutely no guarantee that the presence of the men will minimise threats to koalas. In fact the noise created during the construction of the shed and generated by the men’s shed once active (it is a semi-industrial facility with welding, lathes, hammering etc), the increased number of car movements will certainly not give the koalas the peace they so desperately need.

    The Black Rocks koalas are in dire jeopardy and revegetation/enclavement is critical for their survival. The Men’s Shed can go to Barry Shephard sports oval, the koalas have nowhere else to go. It’s only common sense to move the Men’s Shed to the other location before it’s too late.

  2. Menkit Prince says:

    Gee, Barry’s not too good at maths. I just went through the petition and found 174 people from Pottsville – and that does not include checking the 1,747 hard copy signatures we collected. My dictionary says referendum means ‘the principle or practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection.’ The electorate consists of the whole shire, not just a part of it. His version of ‘referendum’ sounds like it’s just a phone survey. Otherwise I thoroughly approve of putting the revegetation of Black Rocks sports field and turning it into a koala sanctuary for tourists to see koalas in the wild from viewing platforms (once numbers have recovered and the entire area enclaved) to the whole electorate at the next election.

  3. Menkit Prince says:

    Actually I erred – it was 79 signatories from Pottsville online and another 84 from the hard copy petition making a total of 163, not 179. Still a lot more than 9 signatures from Pottsville as he claimed.

    The online petition is now at 86,196 signatures and growing every day. Many of the comments online say that saving an endangered koala population is far more important than losing a sports field, especially when there is an 8ha oversupply of sports fields in the area. People all over the world are horrified that one man with so much power could make a decision that would spell local extinction of Tweed coastal koalas. Koalas are dearly loved by people everywhere, but Cr Longland chooses to be in denial that there is even a problem, in spite of countless photos of chlamydia-affected koalas from Black Rocks.

    According to a recent publication put out by the NSW Environment Dept
    ( http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/TheKoala.htm ) Koalas bring in between $1.1 and $2.5 billion into the economy and create jobs for 9,000 people. Some of that could be coming to Tweed if Barry would put forward a motion to revegetate, enclave and, once numbers built up create a koala sanctuary with tourist viewing platforms, guided wetland tours etc. Where else can you see koalas in the wild? Come on Barry, you could really shine and be a hero here! Not only for the koalas but for the local businesses.

  4. Gina says:

    Koalas are beautiful animals and have the right to share in their habitat. That are Gods creatures and are part of the world for the balance of nature. We have to try our hardest to keep them from going extinct.

  5. Jen Matthews says:

    The potential to generate $2.5 billion dollars and at least $9,000 more in jobs should be a good incentive to stop the destruction of the koala habitat. If the local council and citizens of Pottsville don’t care about the habitat, welfare, and future of these treasured creatures, at least they should consider the economic benefit of preserving the habitat, build the sports park elsewhere, and through revegetation of the land, plan the koala sanctuary and attract tourists! Tourists bring in revenue. and since there are already other recreation choices, wouldn’t it be fair and the compassionate thing to do to let the koalas keep their only home?? Sometimes recreation and entertainment can be placed on hold when it comes to doing the right thing. Don’t let your beautiful koalas lose their homes and eventually die while you attend sports games and sunbathe in your beaches.

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